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Published: Monday, 7/16/2012

Praying mantis collections flock to Cleveland for research project


CLEVELAND -- A bug specialist is organizing a praying mantis collection from coast to coast to initiate a ground-breaking research project.

Gavin Svenson with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History told the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that the collection is coming in boxes and glass vials from museums around the country.

The items, including the Carnegie Science Center's specimens from Pittsburgh, join Mr. Svenson's set of 4,000 mantises plucked from their camouflaged hiding places on grass stems, tree branches, and flower petals worldwide.

A week ago, Mr. Svenson took an East Coast swing, gathering the entire prized 9,000-mantis collection from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and samples from the American Museum of Natural History and the New York State Museum.

With the long-term loans, the Cleveland museum "will easily jump to the biggest assemblage of mantis specimens in the United States, and [will be] equivalent with the British Museum, Paris and Berlin, which are the other three major international collections," Mr. Svenson said.

The consolidation of mantis samples and the recent opening of a $150,000 DNA lab at the museum will aid the international effort Mr. Svenson is leading to rethink the mantis family tree.

His mantis studies have revealed surprises about how and when they evolved and spread. And the research has overturned some long-held beliefs about which groups within the widely varied mantis clan are most closely related.

The roughly 2,500 mantis species range from barely an inch to nearly a foot long.

Mr. Svenson and other researchers are studying what triggers a mantis to strike at prey, which could be a smaller insect, another mantis, or something as large as a frog or a bird.

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